ACC Exam Week: Grading Out the 15 Schools

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 11th, 2014

It’s Exam Week in the Atlantic Coast Conference, so what better time than the present to analyze the basketball aptitude of the 15 member institutions? Below we present three groupings: the teams representing the head of the class; those with the potential to improve on their early season results; and the disappointments. There’s no sliding scale to our grading system, so the teams were evaluated on how they have performed no matter their preseason expectations (sorry, tough professor).

Top of the Class

  • Duke has earned nothing shy of an A+ thus far, playing like a team that’s clearly a national title contender. The freshmen and veteran holdovers have meshed beautifully, and the Blue Devils’ 8-0 record includes a quality win over Michigan State as well as a very impressive defeat of fellow contender Wisconsin on the road.
  • Louisville is having no problem representing its new conference in an 8-0 start, save for a head-scratching 45-33 win over Cleveland State. Knocking off Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge as well as wins over Minnesota and Indiana leave the Cardinals looking like a contender for the crown too. Montrezl Harrell has been as good as advertised, and the long-awaited emergence of Wayne Blackshear makes this a very dangerous team.
  • Notre Dame sure missed Jerian Grant down the stretch last season. Now that its leading man is back from suspension, the Irish have started off hot. They’re a one-point loss to Providence from being 10-0 and they can present a quality win by virtue of besting Michigan State. Four double-figure scorers contribute to the 10th highest-scoring offense in the country at 85.1 points per game.
Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

  • Could Virginia actually be better than last year’s conference championship-winning team? The Cavaliers have let Justin Anderson loose, and he has been nothing short of a star to pair along with Malcolm Brogdon. They’re still one of the best defensive teams in the country and have shown they can win playing multiple styles, counting road wins over Maryland and VCU already on the resume.
  • Miami is probably the pleasant surprise of the conference thus far, sporting a 9-1 record and earning a spot few saw coming in the national rankings. We’ll excuse the hiccup against Wisconsin-Green Bay (the same team that nipped Virginia early last year) since the Hurricanes have already beaten Florida and Illinois. Transfers Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan have allowed the other players who were asked to do too much last season to return to more comfortable supporting roles.

Those With Potential

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AAC M5: 11.20.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 20th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. It didn’t take long for folks to start talking about whether Memphis’ Josh Pastner deserves to be on the hot seat after Tuesday’s abject disaster of a performance against Wichita State. It was longtime Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Lutz who was postulating about Pastner’s job security after he got a chance to watch the Tigers play firsthand in South Dakota. Lutz is paid to have strong opinions and stick to them no matter how ludicrous, but Pastner dismissed the criticism after the game. Lutz is hardly the only smart college basketball mind who is worried about the Tigers, though, and just the fact that Pastner has to dismiss this criticism after the very FIRST game of the season is not a good sign of things to come. Many feel that because Memphis has commitments from two of the Lawson brothers that Pastner’s job is still safe, but the people calling the shots in Memphis are smart enough to know that any coach should be able to recruit talent to the program. For now, it’s way too early to be doing anything other than observing that the negative chatter has already started. But let’s just say that the Memphis Athletic Director Tom Bowen will be watching the progress of the Tigers very closely this season.
  2. UConn kicks off the Puerto Rico Tip-Off this afternoon by playing College of Charleston, and assuming that the Huskies can get past the Cougars (which may or may not be a safe assumption), they will follow that up by playing either Dayton or Texas A&M on Friday. The Flyers and Aggies are hardly the only good teams playing in this tournament and our friends at the UConn Blog were kind enough to do the heavy lifting and analyze every team in the event for those unwilling to do their own homework. Reading the scouting reports, it is clear that the Huskies should be the favorite to win three games, but the event also represents an excellent early test for Kevin Ollie‘s club. Both Dayton and Texas A&M have NCAA Tournament aspirations of their own, and potential finalists New Mexico and West Virginia should both be on the bubble at the end of the season as well. Early season tournaments aren’t necessarily a good barometer for a team’s prospects in March, but they are a great opportunity to boost an RPI and collect some good wins for the resume. It won’t be the end of the world is UConn doesn’t win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, but we will get a chance to see the newcomers against legitimate competition.
  3. Torian Graham‘s career at Houston is over before he even played a single minute for the Cougars, as the junior announced on Monday that he was leaving the school for personal reasons. Some may remember Graham as a former top-100 recruit from the class of 2012 who committed and de-committed from North Carolina State before finding his way to Houston by way of Chipola Junior College. Head coach Kelvin Sampson recruited him after losing two key players to transfer, and the expectation was that Graham would immediately compete for time and help the offense with his size and shooting ability on the wing. Instead he didn’t play at all in the team’s season-opening win over Murray State, and while we won’t speculate on what Graham’s “personal reasons” for leaving were, he did say in a statement that he plans to pursue his basketball career elsewhere. Regardless of how good Graham could have been, his departure leaves the team painfully thin in the backcourt and will put an even larger onus on Cavon Baker and Eric Weary Jr. until L.J. Rose returns from injury.
  4. Since we are already talking about Houston, why not spend a little bit of time talking about how rich Kelvin Sampson is going to get coaching this team. The Houston Chronicle got its hands on the details of Sampson’s contract with the school and while I imagine a lot of these details are pretty standard fare in big-time college basketball, it’s still kind of shocking to see how much the university shelled out to lure Sampson from the NBA. Click on the link if you want to read all the details, but we should note that a compensation package worth $1.1 million annually with a base salary of $550,00 is pretty nice for a coach coming off a show-cause penalty. The additional detail that Sampson must pay back 85 percent of the total remaining base salary if he leaves for another college gig, and 50 percent of his remaining base salary if he leaves for an NBA gig, shows that Houston expects him to stick around for awhile.
  5. Cincinnati was the one of two AAC teams (the other was Tulsa) in action Wednesday night, and the Bearcats survived a 69-61 defensive slugfest with a solid Morehead State team. Perhaps the coolest part about that game is that the Cincinnati Enquirer dedicated a whole article to the Bearcats’ need to find consistent outside shooting and focused on junior college transfer Farad Cobb as the team’s best bet to step up. Cobb responded against the Eagles by shooting 6-of-9 from behind the three-point arc and pacing the Bearcats with 24 points and a couple of steals. The rest of the team went 3-of-13 from downtown on the evening, so the Enquirer was right on the money about the team’s shooting struggles as well as Cobb’s likely role. Now the Bearcats just need him to play like that so that they can consistently score.
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Ranking the AAC Non-Conference Schedules: Part I

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 10th, 2014

It might seem that ranking non-conference schedules at this early juncture is a fruitless endeavor, and we understand that sentiment. Smart college basketball fans think they know who will be good and who won’t, but it’s all just educated guesswork until the season starts. That doesn’t mean evaluating non-conference schedules is foolish. Some teams will surprise and others disappoint, but the variance between preseason expectations and season-long success isn’t usually big enough to make schedule analysis worthless. In fact, given the weighty importance the Selection Committee places on non-conference scheduling when it determines the field of 68, analyzing schedules now may lead to clues about which AAC bubble teams could actually get in. We ranked all 11 team’s non-conference schedules from worst to first below, with the first installment featuring teams ranked #11-#6 today. All preseason rankings are courtesy of KenPom.com.

11. Houston Cougars

Sampson's Rebuild Took a Hit With the Loss of LJ Rose to Injury

Kelvin Sampson is Likely Smiling Because Of All The Bad Teams The Cougars Play.

The sky is blue, the sun rises in the east, and the Houston Cougars play an aggressively terrible non-conference schedule – those are the only three things anyone can truly count on. After three seasons in a row of playing one of the worst such schedules in the country, nothing has changed in that regard. The Cougars play six opponents ranked #294 and lower, including such luminaries as Abilene Christian and Houston Baptist. Early games against Murray State and Harvard present important opportunities to notch good wins, but it’s a good thing the Cougars aren’t expected to contend for an NCAA Tournament berth because the committee might laugh this non-conference resume out of the building.

10. East Carolina. Aside from the unlikely chance that the Pirates walk into Chapel Hill and upset North Carolina, there are few opportunities for the team to get any other wins worth noting. East Carolina will ease into its new conference playing an inspired non-conference schedule that includes perennial powerhouses like North Carolina Wesleyan and Virginia-Lynchburg. They will play in the Gulf Coast Showcase, pitting them against a tough Green Bay team and perhaps Fresno State if they win, but the rest of this schedule is littered with opponents that won’t be relevant by the middle of December.

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ACC M5: 11.10.14 Exhibition II Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 10th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. North Carolina: North Carolina wrapped up its exhibition season with another rout, this time thrashing Belmont Abbey by a score of 112-34 on Friday night. Once again, it was freshman Justin Jackson who led the way, efficiently scoring 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field. Even against Division II competition, Roy Williams has to be pleased with the pace at which the Tar Heels are scoring and how well they are sharing the ball. In their two exhibition games, the Heels have scored a total of 223 points and tallied 54 assists. Another encouraging sign is that North Carolina has made 73 percent (38-of-52) of its attempts from the stripe in its two preseason contests, after struggling mightily from the foul line last year (62.6%).
  2. Wake Forest: Wake Forest held its only preseason exhibition game in the Joel Coliseum on Friday night,  besting Young Harris by a 96-71 score. New head coach Danny Manning arrived in Winston-Salem with a reputation for developing big men while he was an assistant at Kansas, and he might already be illustrating that impact as junior center/power forward Devin Thomas went for 26 points and 12 boards on perfect 12-for-12 shooting. Two lingering concerns for the Deacs, though, were the 20 turnovers committed and the 25 fouls whistled on them.
  3. Duke: Duke won its second and final exhibition game over the defending NCAA Division II champs, Central Missouri, on Saturday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Mules actually took it to the Blue Devils early, grabbing a 13-7 lead before Duke answered with 17 consecutive points to methodically take control of the game. With their size and talent advantage, Duke racked up a huge edge in free throw attempts (+28), and while center Jahlil Okafor has received most of the preseason hype, fellow freshman Justise Winslow has been the team’s leading scorer in each preseason game.
  4. NC State: The Wolfpack played their lone exhibition game of the preseason as well on Saturday, beating Queens by a score of 78-47. NC State only led by two at the half but dominated afterwards, holding Queens to 24 percent shooting from the field in the second half. The Wolfpack also forced 30 turnovers in the game, and even though the competition wasn’t ACC-caliber, anything close to that mark in the regular season would be a pleasant surprise for a program not known for pressure defense. Two freshmen forwards, Caleb Martin and Abdul-Malik Abu, led the scoring column with 16 and 14 points, respectively, making their bids to replace some of the departed T.J. Warren’s offensive firepower.
  5. Clemson: It looks like more of the same for Clemson this year, and that means defense will once again be the Tigers’ calling card. Brad Brownell’s team harassed Anderson into a colder-than-ice 15.7 percent shooting night in a 62-36 victory Saturday in Littlejohn Coliseum. Unfortunately it might be more of the same for the Tigers’ offense as well. Clemson shot a dismal 31.7 percent from the field and only connected on 9-of-31 three-pointers. Let’s hope Clemson’s regular season games won’t all be as ugly as this one. Each team experienced horrendous scoring droughts, with Anderson in one stretch missing 19 straight shots and Clemson misfiring on its first 15 second half attempts. That couldn’t have been very easy on the eyes.
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ACC Preview: NC State’s Burning Question

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 3rd, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can Cat Barber run this team effectively?

NC State made its third NCAA Tournament appearance in a row last season as head coach Mark Gottfried cajoled his team to a surprising 22-14 record. The Wolfpack were immensely reliant on ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren to get there, as he accounted for 34 percent of the team’s scoring and 32 percent of its shot attempts. Warren has since departed as a lottery pick of the Phoenix Suns, so NC State will put its hopes on a balanced scoring effort this season to make up for his lost production. That will start with sophomore point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber. His ability to protect the basketball and facilitate the offense while also looking for his own shot will largely determine his team’s fate this season.

Barber needs to utilize his speed but keep turnovers low to help move NC State along (credit: wralsportsfan.com)

Barber (#2) needs to utilize his speed but keep turnovers low to help move NC State along. (AP)

Barber was erratic in the early going last year, largely because he had been a score-first point guard in high school who was suddenly asked to find good shots for his teammates (primarily, Warren). Those struggles to run the offense led to Tyler Lewis earning a large share of the available minutes at the point, with the team often looking significantly more fluid with him running the show. That won’t be an option this year, as Lewis has since transferred to Butler. Barber’s improvement during conference play, where his assist-to-turnover ratio was just a tick above 2-to-1, could be a precursor for the floor leader’s 2014-15 campaign. If the sophomore can cut down on turnovers while improving his overall scoring (8.5 PPG) and three-point shooting (26.1%), he’ll be able to keep defenses honest and make the game much easier for his supporting cast. Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 09.26.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 26th, 2014

morning5

  1. What was a promising string of recruits for Larry Brown has continued to dwindle as former SMU commit Matt McQuaid announced his commitment to Michigan State yesterday. McQuaid, a four-star shooting guard out of Texas, backed out of his commitment to SMU in late July and also was courted heavily by Indiana, Texas and Creighton. In the end, McQuaid said it was the relationship that he developed with Tom Izzo, cemented by an official visit to East Lansing this past weekend, that led him to commit to play for the Spartans. Michigan State picks up one of the best shooters in the country to add to two other four-star commits in Deyonta Davis and Kyle Ahrens.
  2. North Carolina State junior guard Trevor Lacey was arrested last Friday for failing to show up for a court date related to a February speeding ticket. Lacey, who sat out last season after transferring from Alabama (averaging 9.3 points per game while there), was stopped for riding a moped without a helmet a little after midnight, but was arrested for missing an April 4 court date for a February 23 speeding ticket. Lacey is now scheduled to appear in court on Monday for the February ticket and also has a November 13 court date for last Friday’s clinic. While we don’t want to minimize an arrest, this is one that we feel will lead to nothing more than a slap on the wrist from the athletic department.
  3. South Carolina has joined a growing list of schools that will offer four-year guaranteed scholarships. The school will reportedly give these scholarships to players in football, men’s and women’s basketball, and women’s tennis and volleyball. Athletes in other sports will have to divide up a predetermined number of four-year guaranteed scholarships with the allocations within each team to be determined by the coach. According to the school these guaranteed scholarships can only be revoked “if the student-athlete 1) decides to leave the team; 2) becomes ineligible; or 3) violates University or athletics department policies.” Although many schools have launched similar programs it is far from universal so we will be interested to see if the schools that do gain any kind of recruiting advantage.
  4. One of the most exciting things about the start of each season is waiting to see which player will be ready to make the leap to become a household name. Obviously, some of the incoming freshmen stars will make that leap, but other times it is players who have been around, but now are given the opportunity to shine. Monte Morris could be a prime example of that with DeAndre Kane no longer in Ames. Morris put up an NCAA record with a 4.79 assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman including 6.9 in Big 12 games so he obviously has the tools to guide the Cyclones. As Dana O’Neill notes Morris also an interesting back story that we think you will hear repeated on telecasts quite a bit this season.
  5. Basketball doesn’t lend itself to advanced statistical analysis the way that baseball does due to the nature of the game, but it has come a long way in a relatively short period of time and has gained acceptance by many fans. At this point nearly every baseball fan has heard of Bill James, but we doubt that many have heard of Dean Oliver, who is basically the Bill James of advanced basketball statistical analysis. Even those who know of Oliver are not that familiar with his background, which Adam Rosenfield does a good job of covering in his article on Oliver. We are not sure that we necessarily agree with Oliver that today’s traditional stats will become extinct as we believe the more useful ones will survive and be used with the similarly useful advanced metrics.
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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: T.J. Warren

Posted by Bennet Hayes on June 6th, 2014

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 26, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 collegians likely to hear their names called by Adam Silver at some point in the draft’s first round. We’ll start with prospects currently slated for the back half of the opening round, but as June progresses we will slowly work our way up and through the presumptive lottery selections. RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is tackling this series; you can find him on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: T.J. Warren

School: North Carolina State

Height/Weight: 6’8”/220 lbs.

NBA Position: Small Forward

Projected Draft Range: Mid to Late First Round

T.J. Warren's ACC POY Season Should Have Him First-Round Bound

T.J. Warren’s ACC POY Season Should Have Him First-Round Bound (USA Today Images)

Overview: For the better part of the 2013-14 season, NC State’s inconsistent results seemed to leave them at a safe distance from the hustle and bustle of the Tournament bubble – a measure of mediocrity that also kept T.J. Warren, the Pack’s bucket-producing star, under a relative veil of anonymity. But a series of March surprises – many of which Warren himself had little part in bringing about — would raise the sophomore’s national profile significantly. First came the surprise ACC POY award (over Jabari Parker), then NC State went out and posted an ACC Tournament upset of nose-diving Syracuse (in which Warren scored 28 of the Pack’s 66 points), a victory that set the stage for the biggest surprise of Selection Sunday: NC State’s inclusion in the 2014 Tournament. Warren’s stellar under-the-radar season suddenly became popular fodder for talking heads in advance of the quartet of First Four games in Dayton, and NC State and their star went out and validated the growing buzz in a first-round victory over local favorite Xavier. It appeared Warren and the Pack’s Tournament stay might extend another round when they held an 11-point lead within the final three minutes against #5 seed Saint Louis, but a late collapse from the free throw line brought a close to an NCAA Tournament appearance that few could ever see coming. Short as their stay may have been, the brief turn that the Pack took in the March spotlight exposed the talented Warren for what he likely was: The best scorer in college basketball not named Doug McDermott. He averaged 24.6 PPG on the season, went for 40+ points in back-t0-back outings against Pitt and BC in early March, and contributed at least 20 points in 31 of his 35 outings. No razzle-dazzle here (another reason for the lack of publicity), but Warren brought offensive production almost every time he stepped on the floor in 2013-14.

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College Basketball’s Five Best Games of 2013-14

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) on April 15th, 2014

As we continue to sift through the memories of the 2013-14 college basketball season, we take a look back at some of the best games of the season. In order, here are the five best games from 2013-14. We covered the five best stories of the season last week, if you’re interested.

  1. November 12: Kansas 94, Duke 83 – Two of the most anticipated freshmen in recent college hoops history matched up in the Champions Classic nightcap, and neither Wiggins (22 points, eight rebounds) nor Parker (27 points, nine rebounds ) disappointed. Kansas broke open a close game behind a late push from Wiggins and Perry Ellis (24 points, nine rebounds), in the process earning one of the season’s first true statement victories. The young Jayhawks would go on to win 25 games and the Big 12 regular season title, but their finest (and most entertaining) win may have come in their second outing of the year.

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

  2. March 29: Wisconsin 64, Arizona 63 (OT) – The low-possession game that everyone expected came to fruition, but both the Badgers (1.05 PPP) and Wildcats (1.03 PPP) managed solid offensive efforts in this Elite Eight battle. Neither team was able to build more than a three-point lead during the final 17 minutes of play (including overtime) in a tangibly tense seesaw battle, but it was the offensive clinic put on by the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky (28 points, 11 rebounds) that proved to be the ultimate difference. After a controversial replay review in the final seconds that gave the ball back to Arizona, Nick Johnson was unable to get up a winning shot attempt in time, and Wisconsin was headed to the Final Four for the first time under Bo Ryan. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 21st, 2014

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

South Region

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College Basketball by the Tweets: Tom Izzo, Marcus Paige, TV Ted and More…

Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on March 4th, 2014

Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent who writes the column College Basketball By the Tweets, a look at the world of college hoops through the prism of everyone’s favorite social media platform. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.

Congratulations, everyone, we’ve made it to the month of March, which some people are unofficially just straight up calling “Izzo.”

I guess if you’ve reached the NCAA Tournament in each of the last 16 years, including six Final Four appearances as the head coach of one team, you can pretty much do whatever you want.

Marcus Paige

There’s perhaps no non-freshman player in the country who has improved as much as Marcus Paige since November. The slender point guard is the clear-cut leader of this year’s Tar Heels, and his play against Triangle rival NC State last week proved as much.

And then a few nights later, Paige sealed a victory for UNC on the defensive end.

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NC State’s T.J. Warren Needs More Help if Wolfpack Are to Dance Again

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 30th, 2013

T.J. Warren is having a tremendous sophomore season, leading North Carolina State and the ACC in scoring with an average of 23.9 PPG, while also leading his team in rebounding (7.8 RPG) and minutes played (34.5 MPG). But he is going to need more help from his teammates if NC State wants to be a serious contender in the ACC and return to the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season. Saturday’s loss at home to #25 Missouri was a good example of this fact.

T.J. Warren Needs More Support From His Wolfpack Teammates (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

T.J. Warren Needs More Support From His Wolfpack Teammates.
(AP/Karl B DeBlaker)

With just over 12 minutes to go in the game, Warren drilled a three-pointer from the left corner – his only made three in seven attempts for the game. At that point, the sophomore star had already notched 24 points and 11 rebounds, and the Pack held a five-point lead. From that moment on, Warren went scoreless on three field goal attempts and managed only two more rebounds for a 24/13 night. He wasn’t totally invisible for the remainder, as he did record a block and assisted on two huge three-point baskets by Ralston Turner. But his lack of production down the stretch was a big reason that N.C. State couldn’t hold off the Tigers, who trailed by 10 points with just under nine minutes left. Missouri suddenly got hot from the outside, making five of their last six three point tries after only hitting two of their first 12 from behind the arc. But without their star involved in the offense, the Pack just couldn’t match that burst from Missouri and its star guards, Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown, who led the Tigers in scoring with 21 and 17 points, respectively.

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AAC M5: 12.17.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 17th, 2013

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  1. Tonight is a big one for the AAC as two of the name-brand programs that will actually still be in the conference next season are playing in New York as part of the Jimmy V Classic. There are few stages at this point in the season that are bigger than the Jimmy V Classic and to represent half of this year’s field is a big deal. Both games are big tests for Memphis and Cincinnati but there is one team with a lot more at stake at Madison Square Garden — Mick Cronin’s Bearcats. Cincinnati hasn’t beaten anybody worth talking about and they were mildly embarrassed in the Crosstown Classic by Xavier over the weekend. We have harped on the Bearcats’ offensive struggles, but perhaps surprisingly, the team’s biggest issue is an apparent lack of toughness. I am still putting the finishing touches on my white paper Advanced Methods of Quantifying Toughness, so it’s easier to just say they weren’t great on either end of the floor against the Musketeers. Still, toughness is ostensibly supposed to be one of the Bearcats’ hallmark competencies and they didn’t do a great job on the glass or defending the three-point line, so it would probably help if they toughened up in those areas.
  2. As a college basketball fan, it would have been awesome to see Florida’s much-hyped freshman Chris Walker suit up for the Gators tonight, but I bet Memphis fans are breathing a sigh of relief. Well okay, so it wasn’t likely that Walker was going to light the world on fire, but Memphis only plays two real big men in Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin (and Florida already had a size and athleticism advantage to begin with). The game will obviously be competitive, but it will be especially interesting to see how the personnel decisions on both sides shake out. Memphis will want to play three guards and the Gators will probably want to rotate Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith at small forward — both of whom are too big and athletic for the Tigers’ guards. Josh Pastner is going to have to bring his A-Game to face a coach as good as Billy Donovan, and it will be fun to watch them match wits tonight.
  3. Although it will have no effect on the 2013-14 season, the news of UConn guard Rodney Purvis‘ shoulder surgery still made headlines on a slow news day. Purvis transferred from North Carolina State and is sitting out this year anyway, so it makes sense to fix a torn labrum in his left shoulder now so he can be ready for next season. I know… fascinating stuff. But it gives us an excuse to talk about Purvis, a former McDonald’s All-American who started 23 games as a freshman for the Wolfpack. He transferred without much fanfare but he is an athletic 6’4″, 200-pounder, who scored in double figures in 12 games last season. Granted, most of those games came before conference play and he was a bit more inconsistent as the competition improved, but he will be expected to take on the lion’s share of the load Shabazz Napier leaves behind. I don’t really know how what I just wrote has anything to do with his impending surgery, but that’s fine. Just log those few sentences away for now and call me out when I self-plagiarize for an impact transfer preview for next season.
  4. The conference’s banner program will also be in action tonight as Louisville hosts Missouri State. The Bears aren’t the same mid-major headache they once were, but they are 8-1 on the season and their only loss was on a neutral floor to Virginia, so they will be dangerous. Head coach Rick Pitino is especially worried about their potent three-point shooting ability, and while he is overstating their offensive brilliance a bit, he would be wise to make sure his team defends the three-point line. In the end, there is little chance that Missouri State has enough defensive ability to hang with the Cardinals on the road, even if Louisville is still missing scoring point guard Chris Jones. The bottom line is that the Bears will probably make it interesting in the first half but Louisville has more than enough horses to pull away in the second 20 minutes.
  5. The South Florida Bulls play host to Dunk City tonight as Brett Comer, Chase Fieler and the rest of the Florida Gulf Coast will be in town for an intrastate match-up. Although they are probably the less recognizable team, the Bulls will play as the favorites as the Eagles are struggling to recapture the magic from last season and have lost three of their last four games. Of course they are still the more compelling storyline for ESPN.com and thus Myron Medcalf wrote a worthy profile of life after last season’s NCAA Tournament run that is worth reading. It’s not AAC news necessarily… or like …at all. But we are equal-opportunity providers and when we see a good story with some connection to the league, you better believe we are posting it.
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